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Anxiety in children and adolescents
Matthew 19:14 “But Jesus said, suffer little children, and forbid them not to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”
More children suffer from anxiety disorders than any other psychological problem. Sometimes their environment causes the anxiety. Sometimes a child simply has an anxious temperament.
Childhood anxiety can take many forms. Because a child has not yet developed the verbal skills to explain his or her anxieties, he or she will use nonverbal behaviors. Excessive crying, nightmares, misbehavior, temper tantrums, and the like can all be screams for help arising from too much anxiety.
As is often the case with a child suffering from extreme anxiety, the problem has more to do with the parents than the child. Like so many parents who want the best for their child, they couldn’t understand what was going on. This is often a “system” problem, caused by the authority figures.
Remember that, for some children, anxiety symptoms can be a brief and passing phase associated with self-exploration and self-quieting, and it will not develop into a problem. If the behavior persists beyond preschool years, some action may be necessary.
All children experience anxiety. Anxiety in children is expected and perfectly normal at certain developmental stages. Intense anxiety at times of separation from parents is a necessary part of them gradually becoming less dependent and prepared for school.
When children experience anxieties that are severe enough to interfere with their daily activities, professional help may be necessary.
The key diagnostic feature of a true separation problem is a focused, excessive anxiety concerning separation from those to whom the child is attached.
Phobias in children
Most phobias originate in childhood. The longer the fears are left untreated, the more likely they will become entrenched and resist treatment later.
True phobias are extreme anxiety reactions over unreasonable fears or even something that has no danger attached to it at all. The more unreasonable the greater the phobia. Common phobias include fear of: the dark; animals; going on a bus, airplane or amusement park ride; dentist or doctor; strangers; water or learning to swim.
Generalized anxiety in children
Many children do not have specific anxiety problems but develop a “generalized” anxiety like that seen in adults where it is pervasive, broad based and debilitating. Symptoms include: multiple worries about things before they happen; constant worries or concern about school, friends or sports; excessive tension and uptightness; constant attempt to seek reassurance; excessive worries that interfere with normal childhood activities.
Parents should be alert to the signs of severe anxiety so they can intervene early to prevent complications. Unfortunately generalized anxiety is not something you can treat yourself as a parent. The risk of making matters worse is very high.
Treatment of severe childhood anxiety disorders
Often the anxiety is transitory and needs a relatively short intervention. No matter what the manifestation of the anxiety, always adopt a non-punitive, noncritical attitude and give first priority to observing the child’s habits and sources of anxiety.
Throughout treatment, provide lots of praise, be encouraging, be patient, and do not nag when anxious behavior occurs. Remember also to pray with your child over his or her anxieties. (1 Peter 5:7) God offers comfort and relief for our anxieties in times of trouble.
Drugs are not usually the first treatment and should never be the only treatment.
The Anxiety Cure, Dr. Archibald D. Hart, Word Publishing, 1999